Davy not fooled by Banner's 'mind games'
Waterford Crystal Cup (sh)
PICTURESQUE Ballyduff glistened under a late winter sun yesterday but amid all the brightness and beauty on the banks of the Blackwater, Waterford manager, Davy Fitzgerald got the whiff of what he suspected was a very large rat.
He had watched his side squash his native county with surprising ease and clearly felt that Clare's interest in reaching the Waterford Crystal Cup final was, to put it at its most charitable, less than obsessive.
In fact, Davy suspected that with the counties scheduled to do battle in the Munster semi-final on June Bank Holiday Monday, mind games were at work to such a degree that yesterday's clash wasn't a real game at all.
"I'm not fooled by that. There was no comparison between how Clare played today and against Tipperary (last Tuesday night). They blocked and they tackled and they hustled against Tipperary, but there was none of that there today. They might say there are no mind games going on, but I'm not an idiot. I know we'll be hit with an avalanche on June 7," he said.
He even suggested that the body language of new Clare manager and former playing colleague, Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin spoke of a man who wasn't too concerned by the outcome.
"I know the guys that are over Clare are very shrewd and I know too we're in for an absolute dinger of a game in the Munster championship," said Fitzgerald.
The next port of call was the Clare dressing-room to check out what O'Loughlin thought of suggestions that mind games were at work.
"I wouldn't expect him (Fitzgerald) to say anything different," smiled 'Sparrow'.
His take on a game where Clare were comprehensively trimmed was stark and straight-forward.
"We were well and truly outclassed in nearly every position. We came here to do the best we possibly could, but we were very flat. We didn't play any brand of hurling at all. We certainly know how much work we have to do," he said.
Clare had serious problems all over the place yesterday, but, in particular, in an attack where the starting six forwards yielded just two points between them from play. Three of them were replaced but apart from a brief flourish by Barry Nugent just after half-time it made no difference.
The Waterford defence, anchored imperiously by Michael 'Brick' Walsh, who had assertive co-workers in Jerome Meagher, Declan Prendergast and Jamie Nagle, prepared their snares early on and watched happily as Clare forwards ran into them. In some cases the hapless snipers were rescued by management, while other remained tied up right to the end.
Nugent, who came in for the second half, looked as if he might made significant progress when he clipped over two points within 50 seconds of the re-start, but Waterford quickly snuffed out the new threat and conceded just one more point from there to the finish.
Nugent's points cut the margin to four points (1-8 to 0-7) and when Waterford had Eoin McGrath sent off on a straight red card for an off-the-ball foul on Alan Brigdale in the 33rd minute it looked as if Clare had been handed a clear opening to launch a spirited revival.
Instead, it was Waterford who pressed the power button, shooting a string of points, which took them comfortably clear of their listless opponents and into the final against UCC.
Despite his reservations about the eagerness of Clare's resistance, Fitzgerald will have been happy with the performance of many of his players. The defence was solidly defiant, while the attack prospered on a number of fronts.
Maurice Shanahan continues to advance at an impressive rate; Gary Hurney was a consistent threat; Shane Walsh looked strong and eager, while Thomas Ryan, a graduate from last year's minor team, turned in an energetic performance in the corner. Eoin Kelly had a relatively quiet day at midfield, but still scored 1-1.
His point -- the last of the game -- was a delightful effort, while the goal came from a 20-metre free in the 21st minute. Waterford were leading by four points at the time, but instead of taking the easy option and pointing the free, Kelly went for goal and spun the ball past a packed defence.
Waterford led by 1-8 to 0-3 after 24 minutes, but Clare pulled back two points before the break. Those scores, coupled with Nugent's points immediately on the re-start, followed by McGrath's dismissal, raised hopes of a Clare revival, but it tapered off just as quickly as it had been launched.
Clare's awful day got even worse late on when sub Fergal Lynch was sent off for a pull on Shanahan.
Taken at face value, Clare could take no positives from this performance, but O'Loughlin believes that, in an overall context, the competition has been good for them.
"We're trying to settle a team, while at the same time giving new lads a chance. It didn't work today, but we've got to press on with what we're doing," he said.
Clare will spend the spring in Division 2 which means they can't meet Waterford again until June 7.
"What we saw here today won't count for much then," said Fitzgerald. Indeed.
In the interim, though, he seems to have a much more solid base to work off than his former colleague.
Scorers -- Waterford: M Shanahan 0-7 (5f), E Kelly 1-1 (1-0f), G Hurney, S Walsh 0-3 each, T Ryan, K Moran, J Murray 0-1 each. Clare: M Flaherty 0-3 (2f), B Nugent 0-2, D McMahon, P Donnellan, M Hawes (f) 0-1 each.
Waterford -- C Hennessy; J Meagher, L Lawlor, M O'Brien; D Prendergast, M Walsh, J Nagle; J Murray, E Kelly; S Walsh, K Moran, M Shanahan; E McGrath, G Hurney, T Ryan. Subs: O Whelan for Ryan (52), M O'Neill for Hurney (56), N Jacob for Shanahan (58).
Clare -- D Touhy; P Vaughan, C Dillon, A Brigdale; P Donnellan, B O'Connell, G Quinn; M Murphy, J Clancy; A O'Brien, M Scanlon, A Markham; M Flaherty, D McMahon, J Cusack. Subs: D Barrett for Scanlon (28), B Nugent for McMahon (h-t), C O'Donovan for O'Brien (h-t), F Lynch for Clancy (43), M Hawes for Quinn (48).
Ref -- J Sexton (Cork).